From cave-aged cheese to craft chocolate, if you’re passionate about artisan food and you’ve spent a substantial amount of time in the Salt Lake City area, you’ve probably encountered Caputo’s. For more than two decades, Tony Caputo's Food Market & Deli has held a unique place in the city’s culinary landscape—providing gourmet prepared food, traditional European goods, specialty cheeses, and excellent customer service to Utahans. The store has grown from a single delicatessen and market to a four-location fixture of the area’s eating scene. And from its role incubating Creminelli Fine Meats to its role bringing about Utah’s first chocolate maker, Caputo’s impact on cuisine has been truly outsized.
I recently had a chance to learn more about Caputo’s from its CEO, Matt Caputo. As a lifelong deli enthusiast and the son of Tony Caputo, Matt proved to be a font of knowledge on all-things specialty food.
In part one of our three-part interview, Matt walks us through the history and the ethos behind Caputo’s.
Q: Tell me a little about the history of Caputo’s: When was the company founded and by whom? How did you come into the family business?
Matt Caputo: Caputo's was founded by my dad, Tony Caputo, and opened in the spring of 1997. After years of working for a similar company, and allowing me to help out by bagging ravioli as a kid, he ventured out on his own and found wild success because of his genuinely warm and inviting personality that made anyone who walked through our doors feel comfortable and welcome in our space. I spent as much time in the deli as my parents would allow as a kid.
After a few impactful classes at the University of Utah, I became the Director of Marketing for Caputo's, helped open our specialty market for regional Southern European and local cheeses, meats, and fine chocolate. We've prided ourselves on our ability to bring people together around a meal, whether it's a lunch in our deli or ingredients for a home cooked meal.
Q: What would you say makes Caputo’s a unique institution in the Salt Lake City area?
MC: We've spent the last 22 years mindfully improving our food quality and service while supporting our peers in the community. Caputo's has become a hub for chefs, educators, dyed-in-the-wool food geeks, AND novices with an open mind. We have a reputation for expertise, but we use it in a very inviting way. It's not about showing off our knowledge. It's about sharing some incredibly delicious bites and fascinating facts about the things we sell in a way that excites anyone.
Caputo's could never succeed without the support of our customers, but we rely on the support of our food community just as much. We feel truly honored by the people that continue to support us, and a lot of those people are fellow food industry peers and mindful customers who go out of their way to visit one of our stores rather than simply stopping at the nearest grocery store or chain restaurant. In the beginning, Caputo's was not in a neighborhood that had much local business or foot traffic; people were consciously trekking out of their way to visit us. Our best way to show our thanks was to commit to continuous improvement and make sure each and every person left with a personal thank you, making sure each and every person knew we were very glad they decided to walk through our doors.
Q: Can you tell me a little about A Priori Distribution? How long has specialty chocolate been a part of the family business?
MC: I started buying for Caputo's in the early 2000s and was constantly behind in my work at the counter in the market because of how many different companies I had to navigate to fill our shelves. Around this same time, I had my first craft chocolate experience at a food show and with an Italian bean-to-bar chocolate maker who was committed to bringing this category of fine food to Salt Lake City. The hours and hours I'd spent submitting orders to numerous vendors led me to the creation of A Priori.
In the beginning and at its core, A Priori filled the gap between maker and retailer that I had always yearned for: a one-stop shop for retailers to select the highest tier of craft chocolate brands with one order minimum, uncomplicated shipping, and a dedication to quality of quantity. A Priori may never have existed without my time spent ordering for Caputo's.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about a couple products or aspects of the Salt Lake City food culture that are near and dear to you personally?
MC: Salt Lake City would be nothing without the efforts of our downtown Farmer's Market, local restaurateurs, and our Slow Food chapter. The products we find the most exciting and important to our city are thriving because of the customer base that has been nourished by our peers in their sub-categories of the food industry here in SLC. Our efforts would have been greatly impeded without these leaders in our community, and we're grateful for their support of Caputo's all these years and for our coordinated efforts to push our city to support our neighbors and friends in the local market.
No list of Utah products would be complete without the mention of Mesa Farm and Amano Chocolate. Randy Ramsley of Mesa Farm is putting Utah on the culinary map with his dedication to honest, sustainable food. From animal husbandry, to farmstead cheesemaking, Randy is setting the standard of what Utah is capable of, contributing to bringing food back to its cultural origins. Our partnership with Mesa has been one of the most personally rewarding achievements for Utah food culture.
Caputo's was Art Pollard and Amano Chocolate's first retailer. Amano helped set the stage for a booming craft chocolate industry in Utah that is unparalleled in the rest of the country. What started as a small niche category has grown to become the pride of Utah specialty food.
In part two of my interview with Matt, we’ll narrow our focus and take a look at Caputo’s selection and some of the specialty foods that Matt keeps coming back to in a dynamic culinary landscape.